This is a cautionary tale about buying big things on the Internet. To paraphrase the "Beverly Hillbillies" theme song: "Come and listen to a story about a man with a shed/ bought it online after all reviews were read/ came unassembled, wasn't missing any parts/ took a week to put together and there my trouble starts. (Spoken:) Felt cheap. Smelled weird."
It's a garbage-can shed, which the website calls a "Refuse Bin." About a month after it was pressed into service, the knob on the slidey-thing that holds the doors shut — stop me if I'm getting too technical — fell off. One might expect that it was soldered on, but no: it was glued on. And by "glue" I mean Elmer's. It fell off in the dark and bounced away, never to be found again, carried away by ants who will bring it to their Queen and venerate it as a gift from the Great Tall Stompy Gods. Its loss meant that the slidey-thing could not be rotated to keep the bolt in place and, thus, keep the door closed. The bolt just fell out on the ground.
"Well, I'll have to fix that someday," I said, knowing I would find some pathetic workaround and never fix it at all until my wife noticed. Then I'd have to come up with some strategy I could describe in detail, like "I did a Web search for a replacement part, and Google is going to call me back when they find something. Is there a message on the machine? Maybe that's Google."
Last week she finally noticed, and there were no messages on the answering machine, so I went to the small beloved local hardware store you like to patronize so it doesn't close and make you feel guilty. They had two types of replacements. The small one would expose unpainted wood; the big one would make it impossible to close the lid. Sigh. Off to Big Box Store #1. Same problem. Big Box Store #2: same problem. I found an employee who was ready to scream because he was helping someone find glue when someone else asked if he could help him find half-inch metal rods and then while he was explaining that rods were in Aisle 47, someone asked where the batteries were.
The clerk looked at the clasp I'd brought, and said, "Well, you could try the little hardware store on the other side of the freeway." Pause. "They have strange things." I imagined some dark, cluttered store where a man in a silk dressing gown is sipping from a hookah, a monkey on his shoulder. What do you seek, sir? Uh — this. This part. Let me see your palm. What? OK, here. I see you are on a journey. The road is narrow. Sorrow is your destination. (The monkey screeches.) I can find you the part. But there will be a price.
OK, great, whatever.
Did I not stress the word price enough to suggest that your immortal soul is involved? Let me say again. There will be —
Look, never mind, I'll e-mail the manufacturer.
Let us back up to the moment a few years ago when the Chinese factory management is discussing how they'll bring in this shed-bid at a good profit. Cheap screws made of Play-Doh, yes. Balsa-wood walls, yes. Metal parts coated with E-Z Flake paint, yes. Anything else? Yes, you.
"Uh — for the barrel bolts, if we, uh, if we glue the critical knob with the spittle of someone who has been chewing gum, we can save … $97.23. But I warn you, this cost-cutting may poison the consumer's relationship with the seller, which in turn could affect future contracts."
I will instruct the social media department to flood the product page with positive reviews. We endorse the spittle decision.
Because of that conversation on the other side of the world, I spent two hours looking for a thing that does not exist. Thinking it best to take it up with the people who sold me the thing, I sent an e-mail with pictures, links to the assembly pdfs, order number, product number, astrological charts of the day it was delivered, everything. Within 12 hours — on the weekend! — I got a response.
The part was not available. They were very sorry.
So they would be sending me a whole new shed.
A 99-pound box would be arriving shortly, having traversed the heaving seas on a ship from China, processed in a West Coast port, trucked to a warehouse, loaded on a plane, flown to Minneapolis, stored in another warehouse, forklifted onto a truck, driven to my house and dragged up to the porch so I can rip open the box and find one (1) 22-cent piece of metal. Crazy as it is, I find it heartening that the company was willing to go this far. It makes me want to trade with them again. Can't wait until they start selling cars, because I'll buy one. And when the glove compartment light bulb burns out, well, free car.
Which I would park on the edge of the driveway, except there's that shed, blocking the way.